Military Justice in Vietnam
The Rule of Law in an American War
William Thomas Allison
The My Lai Massacre was the most publicized incident subjected to military law during the Vietnam War, but military lawyers in all the service branches had their hands full with less-publicized desertions, drug use, rapes, fraggings, black marketeering, and even small claims. William Allison reveals how the military justice system responded to crimes and infractions both inside and outside the combat zone and how it adapted to an unconventional political, military, and social climate as American involvement escalated.
In taking readers to war-torn Vietnam, Allison's study depicts a transitional period in the history of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was revised in 1968. Reflecting American beliefs in discipline and efficiency in military operations, the Code and its implementation were viewed as an integral facet of pacification and counterinsurgency programs. As Allison makes clear, military law and justice in Vietnam were not intended merely as behavioral controls but were also promoted to the Vietnamese as American ideals: respect for the rule of law and an example of the best that democracy had to offer.
“A well-researched body of work that examines the U.S. military justice experience during the Vietnam War. . . . Engaging and enjoyable to read.”
“This book works wonderfully as an anecdotal history of U.S. military lawyers in a particular time and place, enlivened by the reminiscences of veterans whose letters to the author recapture emotions and experiences now forty years past. This is the way the war must have been for the lawyers who participated in it. Their stories, and those of their clients, are a first-class read. . . . This book is preferred as a readable brief introduction to the daily legal problems faced by military lawyers in Vietnam.”
—H-Net ReviewsSee all reviews...
“Allison has . . . provided a very valuable contribution to the scholarly literature in several fields. He has succeeded admirably in reconstructing the day-to-day life of a JAG lawyer serving in Vietnam, but he has also constructed a new and very original window onto the war itself. His book is extremely valuable as a reference book on issues ranging from the UCMJ itself to rates of desertion and drug use in Vietnam and, as such, should be on the reference shelf of anyone who teaches courses in military history or the American War in Vietnam.”
—-Reviews in American History
“A scholarly and well-written book.”
“Reflecting on the issues and incidents discussed in this insightful book, it is difficult to resist wondering: is the ‘Root’ of the problem in Iraq today that there are lessons from Vietnam not yet learned?”
—-Law and Politics Book Review
“This is legal history experienced in country by captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels, nearly all of them judge advocates. That vantage point makes the book particularly useful as supplementary reading for a course on the war in Vietnam. Its chapters on the drug problem, the black market, currency manipulation and corruption, violations of the laws of war, and criminal justice issues illuminate each topic by giving examples.”
—H-War Book Review
“Allison concludes in this valuable study of the role of the JAG Corp in Vietnam that ‘if military justice is indeed supposed to be a deterrent (to breaches of discipline), then it did indeed fail’ in Vietnam. The story he tells is a sad and even maddening one. . . . [While praising the JAG lawyers,] Allison argues that the civilianization of military justice and the added missions of democracy and nation-building contributed greatly to ‘the disintegration of U.S. military forces in South Vietnam.’ . . . Reflecting on the issues and incidents discussed in this insightful book, it is difficult to resist wondering: is the ‘root’ of the problem in Iraq today that there are lessons from Vietnam not yet learned?”
—Law and Politics Book Review
“For anyone interested in military justice during the Vietnam War, this fascinating and well-written book will be must reading. Without ignoring the most familiar high-profile war crimes cases, Allison reaches far beyond them, exploring the diverse legal issues posed by ordinary criminal prosecutions, military discipline, the drug problem, and even black market dealings and currency manipulations. He provides a unique look at how all of the services dealt with these concerns, while also conveying what it was like to be an ordinary JAG lawyer in Vietnam.”
—Michal R. Belknap, author of The Vietnam War on Trial: The My Lai Massacre and the Court-Martial of Lieutenant Calley
“A unique and valuable book, based on exemplary research, amazingly accurate in concept and detail, and wonderfully well written.”
—William G. Eckhardt, Chief Prosecutor at the My Lai War Crimes TrialsSee fewer reviews...
American military law and lawyers made near daily contact with the Vietnamese people, and those interactions open an unusual window on the war and also shed light on contemporary military operations and nation-building missions. Based on deep research into wartime archives and interviews with participants in that conflict (including his own father, a Marine Corps lawyer who served in Vietnam), Allison offers a reflective and well-rounded picture of daily life for military lawyers in Vietnam. That portrait also illuminates the complexities of trying to impose military law and justice on a foreign culture not accustomed to Western-style democracy.
As Allison shows, while the difficulties were great and military justice may have fallen short of its goals, as in the My Lai case, military lawyers conducted themselves with honor in Vietnam. And as military crimes in Iraq dominate today's news and military justice in a combat zone continues to challenge our democratic ideals, his book provides critical insight into the historical process that underlies American military law today.